At Wanderers, action before lights and cameras
Johannesburg's Wanderers Stadium has a wardrobe most women would be envious of. A seasoned international host, she has worn the branding of sponsors for so long that some of them, like cigarette companies, are not even allowed to promote themselves anymore. This summer, the empress' new clothes are bright blue, pink and green and have the letters C, L, T and the numbers 2 and 0 on them. The Champions League T20 has come to town.
The 2010 edition in South Africa is remembered as a high-profile, noisy, colourful event, what Lions' batsman Neil McKenzie calls the "closest thing to international cricket." Unlike other domestic tournaments, which is essentially what the CLT20 is, the teams are bussed in by police escorts, put up in some of the city's best hotels and interact with more media than most see over the course of a quiet career.
Many of the cricketers who play in the CLT20 will have exactly that. Although they are professional sportsmen, their careers will not often be punctuated with glamour. It is they that the CLT20 should actually be about because they, more than anyone else, relish the opportunity of playing in a tournament like this.
Two teams with players like that were out practicing at the newly made up Wanderers four days before the qualifiers begin. Some casual observations of both the Lions and the Auckland Aces provided enough of a glimpse to know the tournament is important, taken seriously by domestic teams the world over and can provide opportunity if it is properly run. First, there was the intensity. Summer has arrived in full force and both held longer sessions than in over 30 degree heat and took turns using the nets and outfield.
Then, there was the camaraderie. The Lions asked Auckland if left-arm spinner Ronnie Hira wouldn't mind turning his arm over to some of their batsmen. He obliged and was soon joined by the veteran Andre Adams. Chris Martin kept a close watch.
Mark O'Donnell, who coached the Lions before they became a franchise, exchanged pleasantries with McKenzie and Lions' coach Geoffrey Toyana, who he has known for years. Some of the younger players got to know each other as Chris Morris shook hands with Colin de Grandhomme. Numbers were exchanged and plans to meet made. Cricket in its simplest form was being practiced.
There was no indication that the teams were gearing up to contest prize money of US$6 million - the winner will walk away with $ 2.3 millon - or that these men thought they were celebrities rather than people. In three weeks' time, some of them will be celebrities. Notable performances at the CLT20 have kickstarted careers - just ask Sunil Narine or Kieron Pollard - and they earned some, like Davy Jacobs, IPL contracts. A massive television audience across many countries will soon be able to recognise these players and if the preparation is anything to go by, the two teams training at the Wanderers this afternoon are ready.
Auckland have been in South Africa since September 22. Even though they could end up playing nothing more than their two qualifying matches, they have spent two weeks preparing for it. Coach Paul Strang has acquired the services of fellow Zimbabwean Heath Streak as a bowling consultant for the tournament. Streak is missing the start of his domestic season, where he will coach the Tuskers franchise, to do the job.
As a team that has participated in this competition before, Auckland do not want to repeat the mistakes of last year. There, they failed to get past the qualifiers, which included a narrow defeat to Kolkata Knight Riders followed by a heavier one against Somerset.
The Lions have also had experience of the tournament. They played in the 2010 edition in South Africa but did not make it out of the group stage and are determined to put that right this time. Being in a group with a qualifier, the Sydney Sixers, Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings will not make that task easy.
The presence of IPL teams overshadows almost everything in this tournament. Just from a numbers perspective, they skew the balance because there are four of them. The other shareholders, South Africa and Australia, only have two teams and Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand and West Indies have only one team who may not even play in the tournament proper.
The IPL teams also tend to house the bulk of the marquee players, though the IPL franchises pay $150,000 to the home team of a player who opts for them - so everyone gains in some form.
With the IPL teams comes the bling and the superstars and in their shadow this afternoon at the Wanderers will not be remembered by anyone. If the CLT20 hopes to make gains in credibility terms, its afternoons like these which must take precedence over the gimmicks.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent